Color, 1999, 87 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk
Starring Amy Weber, Donny Terranova, Nichole Pelerine, John Fairlie, Promise LeMarco, Ilia Volokh, Linnea Quigley
York (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS(1.85:1)
Guaranteed to provoke waves of nostalgia for any horror fan who lived through the '90s, the awkwardly-titled Kolobos seemed to be another in a line of fan homes to Italian horror films when it came out (a la The Dead Hate the Living) with its open nodes to Dario Argento and company. However, the 1999 film's premise of a reality entertainment experiment yielding a gory body count turned out to be ahead of its time, paving the way for very similar films like My Little Eye and the worst of the bunch, Halloween: Resurrection, both in 2002. Though apparently filmed on a very low budget and hampered by some narrative issues, the film sports visual style to burn, some extraordinarily graphic murder sequences, earnest performances, and a crackerjack premise.
Our tale begins with a long subjective sequence in which a badly mutilated girl is brought out of a rainstorm into a hospital, where her wounds are treated and she begins to recover in a hospital room. Thanks to the interrogations of her bedridden neighbor and an attending nurse, the girl begins experiencing flashbacks to the previous day. Five young people respond to a classified ad seeking adventurous, open-minded people for a Real World-style experimental film. The various participants include a low budget soft porn/horror actress, a struggling stand-up comedian, a smart-ass fast food worker, and a clean cut college guy. The fifth guinea pig, Kyra (soap actress Weber, sort of a more morose Jennifer Love Hewitt by way of Amy Acker), is an anxiety-riddled young psychiatric patient prone to doodling gruesome images. The "actors" convene in an isolated house where video cameras monitor their every move, though the director stops by to offer them some pizza and offer some general guidelines about the project. Unfortunately, after he leaves, the windows and doors are all sealed with unbreakable metal plating, and lethal booby traps begin decimating the young hopefuls at the most unexpected moments.
Though structurally a generic slasher film and little more (if you've seen Curtains, you know the routine), Kolobos generates a surprising amount of mileage out of its creepy, unsettling framing and recurring images, including one doozy of a scare exactly one hour into the film. The filmmakers are obvious lovers of the horror genre with references bouncing everywhere from author Poppy Z. Brite to Argento, whose Deep Red tooth-bashing is reprised during one especially splashy scene. The effective but painfully derivative score by William Kidd manages to swipe from Suspiria, Inferno, and Phenomena in the first five minutes alone, but it still works wonders and enhances the garish, candy-colored lighting schemes. Scream queen Linnea Quigley turns up briefly at the beginning, an amusing touch considering the tribute to her antler murder in Silent Night, Deadly Night performed later in the film. None of the characters is especially appealing, but the actors all do a passable job and conquer the sometimes scrappy dialogue recording, which suffers from that familiar, hollow "made for video" sound. Unfortunately, like most horror films in the past couple of years, Kolobos proves to be too clever for its own good and paints itself into a corner. Just when the film works up to a creepy, tense climax, the film stops dead in its tracks, refuses to explain itself, and lumbers along for a ten minute epilogue that leaves you with a lot of narrative muddy water.
Short-lived video label York brought this film to DVD in 1999 (complete with a lousy cover) that served as almost everyone's first encounter with this film, and the release was actually pretty solid for the time. Though not anamorphic, the flat letterboxed transfer still gets the saturated color look down right and made for an okay intro under the circumstances. The highly manipulative 5.1 audio features some jolting directional sound effects (love those flying buzz saws!), despite the aforementioned "canned" dialogue problems. A pretty good trailer is also included, though oddly, it neglects to give the film's title. Other extras include Spanish subtitles and a "behind the scenes" which just amounts to a two page bio of Ms. Weber.
It's doubtful anyone on the planet could have predicted this one would get the red carpet treatment on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, but that indeed came to pass in 2019 with a fully loaded special edition highlighted by a much-needed new transfer scanned in 2K from the original negative. It's a gargantuan improvement, which shouldn't be surprising given the two decades of technological advances we've had, with a great deal of extra image info visible, layers of new textures that were never legible before, and greater legibility during the many dark stalking scenes. DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 stereo audio options are offered (with optional English SDH subtitles), and while the 5.1 is still plenty of fun with crazy separation effects at time, the 2.0 sounds more natural when it comes to the dialogue and music mix. Try both and see which one you prefer. A surprisingly lighthearted and breezy audio commentary with co-directors Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk focuses on the production aspects and the many lessons they learned as first-time filmmakers, openly copping to the "homages" to other films and sharing lots of tales from the set including a funny bit about their unorthodox shared cameo and memories of shooting at that memorable main house in Nebraska. The featurette "Real World Massacre: The Making of Kolobos" (22m10s) brings back both directors and co-writer/producer Nne Ebong to offer a broader view of the film's creation including the specifics of the Real World inspiration, the script's take on young people hungry for fame, the nods to Italian horror cinema, and the very limited budget that still allowed them to shoot on 35mm. "Face to Faceless" (9m44s) with actor Ilia Volok (who gets to execute the memorable face-peeling scene and plays the recurring boogeyman) explaining how his "acting inside out" approach played a role in how he treated the camera. In "Slice & Dice: The Music of Kolobos" (8m37s), composer William Kidd explains how he got involved through his connections at USC and faced challenges having a little toddler running around while he was scoring a gory horror movie. Also included are a production photo gallery and a Liatowitsch Super 8 short film, "Superhelden" (10m6s), made when he was 12 and featuring optional, rather poignant director commentary. It's about as different from this film as you can get, following a group of kids as they decide to throw together an impromptu punk rock act. The original trailer is included along with a 15th anniversary one created for a single-night screening, while the first pressing also comes with an illustrated booklet featuring new liner notes by Phillip Escott.
ARROW VIDEO (Blu-ray)
Updated review on February 20, 2019.